California’s air heritage

Glenn Martin exhibiting one of his early machines at a fair at Wahpetor, N.D., in 1912. Photo courtesy Museum of Flight

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Aviation was introduced to California — and Californians were introduced to aviation — via a spectacular 11-day event held at Dominguez Ranch outside of Los Angeles in January 1910. [Read more…]

Fliers or liars?

Wilbur making a circuit above Hunaudieres race course near Le Mans in August 1908.

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

When Wilbur Wright arrived in France May 29, 1908, to carry out demonstrations for a French syndicate interested in building Wright Flyers, it would be the first time one of the Wright brothers flew outside of America. Wilbur not only faced the challenge of flying but of skepticism in the European aviation community that had taken an anti-Wright stance. European newspapers, especially in France, were openly derisive, calling them bluffeurs (bluffers). The Paris edition of the New York Herald summed up Europe’s opinion of the Wright brothers on Feb. 10, 1906: “The Wrights have flown or they have not flown. They possess a machine or they do not possess one. They are in fact either fliers or liars.”

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Flying Gypsies


Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Ever since the conception of the light airplane in the 1920s, the magnitude of flights achieved by pilots using light planes never ceases to surprise, especially when used for around-the-word tours. Such trips would seem to be in the provenance of larger, higher-powered aircraft, not small, low-powered aircraft.

The year 1925 saw the birth of the first highly-produced, practical, reliable light plane, the de Havilland Moth. This plane was designed as a two-seat light plane capable of withstanding the stresses of instructional work, while large and comfortable enough for cross country flying. The craft was so popular that by 1926 output was about one a day.

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The first sport planes


Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

In the May 13, 1920, issue of the English magazine Flight, a survey of a new type of aircraft they called the “sporting aeroplane” was published. The article provided a list of these aircraft of 50 horsepower or under, along with drawings of each.

Though most of the airplanes were from England or France, some six American designs were covered: ACE, Bellanca CE, Dayton-Wright Messenger, Hild-Marshonet, Loening Kitten, and Martin Kitten. [Read more…]

The OX-5 era


Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

After the end of World War I, surplus warplanes were dumped on the market at a fraction of their original cost, leaving manufacturers with little demand for new aircraft. Without a doubt this availability of cheap aircraft hindered the development of new aircraft in the U.S., as surplus aircraft, many still in shipping crates, were sold for as little as a couple of hundred dollars.

In fact, the post-war market looked so good that Curtiss bought back more than 1,600 JN-4 Jennies and 4,608 OX-5 engines. The vast popularity of the war-surplus Jenny led to its being the second most registered aircraft design in the United States before 1940.

However, the corollary to the story is that the stocks of war surplus Curtiss OX-5 engines powered the growth in general aviation for a decade. [Read more…]

On the threshold of powered flight

Lilienthal, who precipitated modern aviation, flying one of his gliders in 1895.

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

During the closing years of the 19th century, there were important events that brought the development of aircraft to the edge of powered flight. It was a period of great expectations, full of such developments as the gasoline engine, the automobile, electric lights and the telephone. The experiments of this time in aeronautics by the likes of Lilienthal, Chanute, Maxim, and Langley were important in providing inspiration and laying the technical foundations that the Wright brothers and others would follow.

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A new age of business travel


Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

The period after the end of World War II saw a rapid growth in the use of corporate-owned aircraft for executive transportation. That need was fed mainly by conversions of small transports and high-speed wartime medium bombers, but in the early 1950s serious thought was given to the design and production of the “ideal” executive aircraft. [Read more…]

A novel approach

The Aeroplane Boys book series took off in 1909 and had at least eight titles published.

Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Starting in 1908 and 1909, aviation began to have an impact on the public conscience and imagination, evidenced by its appearance in popular culture of the day, including music, books and films.

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An aerial adventure

Laurence Lombard, left, and Frederick Blodgett prepare to depart Portland, Oregon, for Seattle. In the background is the Stinson “On-to-Oregon” that Tex Rankin of Portland was using to try to set an endurance record.

A decade after the Army’s pioneering flight to Alaska, two adventurous young men embarked on a month-long, 12,000-mile journey to Alaska in a de Havilland Gipsy Moth named “Flit,” a small two-seat biplane with open cockpits and a 90-hp, four-cylinder engine. The pilots were on their summer vacation and wanted to see if they could fly out to Alaska, get in some bear hunting and return. [Read more…]